latin

blue river6 fun pieces for intermediate to advanced pianists

When I was a teenager, I innocently asked my piano teacher one day if I could possibly learn some pop songs in my lessons. I will never forget his reaction!

Well, the colour drained from his ancient, wrinkly face and I could tell it was all he could do to withhold the rage clearly brewing deep within him!

“Why would you want to learn such rubbish?!?” he finally exploded.

“But it’s fun! And nobody has heard of the pieces I play” I grumbled, for he kept me on a strict diet of scales and Bach! I was tired of the same old routine and desperately wanted some excitement.

“Could I then just learn some jazz and blues?…What about some Scott Joplin even?” His cheeks were starting to puff uncontrollably and he gripped his chair for support. I could tell this was going nowhere!

I dropped my shoulders is resignation. The situation was hopeless. In fact I resorted to learning to play the “Maple Leaf Rag” in “secret,” dreaming of one day playing some cool popular music. The local music shop was just as disappointing carrying an antiquated stock in their so-called “popular music” section.

Now fast forward twenty or more years on and what a different world we live in! Exciting music is easily available from all over the world with the click of a mouse (or a poke of an iPad)!

Take one such book that I recently stumbled upon…

“Blue River” by Elena Cobb. A collection of six original pieces for the immediate to advanced pianist (grade 6+). Now had such a book been available for me as a teenager, I would have loved it! And to have shown it to my old teacher…now that would have been cruel but funny!!!

Full of bluesy, jazzy pieces and even some latin thrown in for good measure, this is an exciting collection which some of my advanced piano students are really enjoying at the moment. It’s challenging them but they are having lots of fun.

Cloud Seven, Latin. This was the first piece that caught my attention. It has a classic Cuban style groove, so perfect for  [···]

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daisy-504491_640

Arguably, the most important skill a musician can acquire is the ability to “play by ear!” Am I dismissing the art of reading notation? Absolutely not. In many aspects of my life as a musician, reading music is essential to me. What I really mean is that, whether a musician is reading music or not, his or her ability to carefully listen to the sound they are producing whilst playing is essential to creating a musical result. I like to call it the “LAD” technique (no offense LADies)! Listen, Analyse and Develop. You have to Listen carefully to the sound you are producing, Analyse the musical elements and then adjust to Develop it yet further. A person might be the best “sight reader” in the world but unless they focus on progressing their “playing by ear”/listening skills, the impact and message of the music will be lost on their audience. “Playing by ear” surely is at the very core of what we do!

So how do we as musicians and teachers develop these essential skills both in ourselves and in our students?

Ear Training Methods

One effective way is to record ourselves and hear our music back. Suddenly we are listening as a third party to the sound and can hear what’s good, bad and ugly! Carefully listening whilst simplifying the music by practicing it slower (and hands separate if possible) can help us focus on detail not previously heard. Other musicians use the

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